City may pay for fill-in election commissioners - again

John F. Street has turned traveler since leaving office.
John F. Street has turned traveler since leaving office.
Posted: January 03, 2011

Four years ago, there was a certain price to pay - for taxpayers - when Philadelphia's election commissioners ran for office.

It was about $78,000 - and there's concern that there will be a similar price to pay in the May primary.

That sum was the total collected by three retired city judges who filled in as election commissioners while the commissioners were campaigning for office.

State law provides for judges to sit in temporarily for election officials on the ballot, but the job typically falls to sitting judges already collecting salaries.

In 2007, then-Court of Common Pleas President Judge Darnell Jones appointed retired judges instead. A candidate himself that year for Pennsylvania Supreme Court (he lost), Jones wanted to avoid any conflict by eliminating the possibility of having a fellow sitting judge involved in counting votes in his race.

Hence the appointment of the three retired Common Pleas Court judges paid at the rate of the commissioners. Records show that Nelson Diaz earned $28,168 that year, fulfilling the role of commission chairman, while Paul L. Jaffe was paid $24,822. Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, said there was no record of money going to Gene D. Cohen, but Cohen in an interview said he was paid, probably close to Jaffe's earnings.

With the primary fast approaching, the nonprofit watchdog Committee of Seventy is out front, trying to prevent city taxpayers from having to pay double the cost for its election commissioners.

Moreover, it says the commissioners - Margaret Tartaglione, Anthony Clark, and Joseph Duda - should forfeit their salaries while campaigning because they are doing no work. None of the three has responded to the committee's request.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for current Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe to name judges - likely not retired ones - to fill in for the commissioners.

- Marcia Gelbart

Street hits the road

Former Mayor John F. Street was never known as a traveler. In fact, the former mayor and City Council president was more like a workaholic monk who eschewed vacations, venturing out only on occasional forays to Walt Disney World with his family.

But the post-retirement Street, who teaches a political-science class at Temple, is a new man. As Heard in the Hall hits the newsstands, Street is scheduled to be in Egypt, his second trip to Africa since leaving office in 2008. He went to Hawaii and the Kentucky Derby in 2010, in addition to his trip to South Africa in 2009.

"The travel thing is something I have contemplated for some time," Street wrote in an e-mail as he headed to New York on Thursday for his flight.

Is Street finally discovering that there's more to life than local government? Say it ain't so, Mr. Mayor! - Jeff Shields

Future of Market Street: Porn? No!

Local business interests hope to turn Market Street into a gateway between University City and Center City.

And they don't think the expansion of the Forum Theater, the porn venue in the 2200 block of Market Street, fits in with those plans.

So last week, some of them joined the legal fight to stop the expansion.

As part of a request to intervene in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case, the Central Philadelphia Development Corp., Peco Energy Co., Brandywine Realty Trust, and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young argued that the city Zoning Board of Adjustment erred in allowing the Forum to add a mezzanine level.

Anthony Trombetta, who runs the Forum, also agreed to shut down a nearby business, a strip club called Les Gals.

In the court filing, Peco and the others say the Zoning Board made a mistake because the proposed expansion would hurt plans to remake that section of Market.

Peco, which has paid for improvements to Schuylkill Banks park and for lighting on the Market Street Bridge to help improve the neighborhood, says the Forum's expansion would contribute to a "seedy impression of Philadelphia," company spokesman Karen Muldoon Geus said.

Paul Levy, executive director of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp., said the proposed expansion would anchor the Forum more deeply in the location and reduce chances that someone else would buy the property and develop something else there.

Levy, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, also said some parents saw the theater and thought twice about sending their children to the university. Residents of the nearby Murano also have complained, he said.

In September, City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion.

Ronald J. Patterson, the lawyer representing the Forum's owners, finds the opposition misguided. Closing the strip club, he said, would eventually allow development of the 2100 block of Market Street.

Although the Zoning Board never formalized that part of the agreement, Patterson said he still thought it could happen.

"I don't think the Zoning Board erred. I think they did a good thing by putting the two into one, and that's how they looked at it," Patterson said. - Miriam Hill

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